A divorce is tough on every family, but dealing with military deployment at the same time can make a divorce even more strenuous for a couple. If you or your spouse is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and you want to file for a divorce in Pennsylvania, you'll need to know what the state's procedures are and if you meet the requirements to initiate a divorce.
Filing for Divorce in Pennsylvania
To file for a divorce and have it be valid, the court that grants you and your spouse a divorce must have jurisdiction over you. For most couples, finding the right court is as simple as going to the civil division at the county courthouse where they reside. For military couples, having the right jurisdiction is a bit more complicated.
Service members and their spouses have a few options when it comes to choosing the jurisdiction to file for a divorce in:
- The state where the service member is currently stationed
- The state where the service member claims legal residency
- The state where the filing spouse resides
Most couples will have a choice of between several states for where they can file for divorce. Generally, couples must get divorced in a state where at least one of them has lived. It's not necessary for both of them to have residency in a state for the divorce to take place there—which is the case for Pennsylvania as well. Only one spouse needs residency in Pennsylvania to file for the divorce. The divorce can also take place in Pennsylvania if the military spouse is stationed in Pennsylvania, but doesn't have residency there.
It doesn't matter which state you and your spouse got married in when you want to file for divorce. The more important factor is residency. To know which state you have residency in, consider:
- Which state you are registered to vote in
- Which state you pay taxes in
- Which state you have a bank account in
- Which state issued you a driver's license or car title
- Which state you own property in
The state where most of the above activities take place is most likely your state of residence, and usually the best choice for filing for a divorce.
Under the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA), if one spouse is on an out-of-state deployment, but one spouse still resides in Pennsylvania, the out-of-state spouse can sign an affidavit providing consent for the in-state spouse to initiate divorce proceedings.
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there are fault and no-fault divorces. Generally, fault divorces are when one person has committed some kind of wrong against the other, and no-fault divorces are mutually agreed upon.
Chapter 33, Section 3301 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes states that the court may grant a divorce to the "innocent and injured spouse" if the other spouse has:
- Committed willful and malicious desertion; not living with the other spouse for a period of one or more years without a reasonable cause
- Committed adultery
- Endangered the other spouse's life and health by cruel and barbarous treatment
- Knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting
- Been sentenced to a prison term of two or more years for committing a crime
- Offered indignities to the other spouse so that their condition is intolerable and the life is burdensome
The courts can also grant a fault divorce if one spouse has been confined to a mental institution for at least 18 months just before the other spouse wants to file for a divorce, and there's no reasonable expectation that the spouse will be discharged before the 18 months is up.
No-fault divorces are granted by mutual consent or irretrievable breakdown.
- Mutual consent: If both parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, they can file for divorce and the court will grant it after a 90-day waiting period. Both parties must sign an affidavit consenting to the divorce.
- Irretrievable breakdown: If one party wants to file for divorce due to irretrievable breakdown, but the other party doesn't consent, the couple can live "separate and apart" for two years. If one spouse can prove they have lived separate and apart for at least two years, the court can grant a divorce.
The Rights of Each Party in a Pennsylvania Military Divorce
The SCRA allows active-duty service members to suspend divorce proceedings for the entire duration of their active duty plus another 60 days. Pennsylvania also has a 90-day waiting period before any divorce proceedings can start, for civilian and military divorces.
Also, if the defendant in the case (not the person who files, but the person who is served with divorce papers) is an active service member, they must be served the divorce papers in person regardless of where they are stationed. Signing and sending an affidavit is only applicable if the divorce is consensual.
Why You Should Work with a Family Law Attorney Who Understands Military Divorce
Many family law firms in Pennsylvania are qualified to help you with a divorce, but significantly fewer have the knowledge and experience needed to interpret military law. They should know what what rights are afforded to both service members and their spouses under the SCRA and other military laws.
Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping military families in Pennsylvania with divorce and custody matters. He understands how difficult this process can be and is able to guide you through it with expertise and empathy for your situation. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 if you have questions about divorce proceedings for military families in Pennsylvania.